Aaliyah Edwards is set to achieve yet another dream.

The Ontario native is a projected first-round pick for Monday’s WNBA draft after a successful four-year career with the UConn Huskies.

The 6-foot-3 forward was a two-time all-American with the storied NCAA program, finishing out her senior season with career highs of 17.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing pro and playing in the WNBA,” Edwards told reporters last week in a Zoom availability. “To have my name among those lists and those rankings of projected top five, it’s crazy. If you were to ask me when I was 10 years old, I’d be, like, ‘no way.‘

“It’s also humbling at the same time, because even though my name’s out there, it’s more just a credit to all the hard work and the effort I put in behind the scenes and put into the game that I’m passionate about. So I’m just going to go into the draft just being blessed with whatever outcome it is, but truly grateful to be recognized like that.”

Edwards declared for the draft on March 21, referring to the recent NCAA women’s basketball tournament as her “last dance.” She helped lead UConn to a Final Four appearance before the Huskies dropped a close game to eventual runner-up Iowa.

The 21-year-old Edwards said she was ready to move on, passing up on one remaining year of college eligibility she had due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a big dream for me, not only just how much I’ve achieved here at UConn, but also just making that step to go across the border,” she said. “It’s not an easy decision to make, to leave your family and to leave what you call home to come into a new environment and a new change.

“I was able to develop not only my skills on the basketball court, but also (interpersonal) skills. … I can say UConn really opened a lot of doors for me and it really helped me be pro ready and ready for the next chapter of my career.”

Edwards could make it two consecutive years a Canadian has her name called in the first round. Laeticia Amihere went eighth overall in last year’s draft.

Edwards broke out in her junior season at UConn, averaging 16.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game and being a staple of the team’s success as the Huskies dealt with injuries.

She earned AP third-team all-America honors, while also being named all-Big East first team, Big East most improved player and Big East Tournament most outstanding player in 2022-23.

“Did I expect this? No,” Edwards said of her individual accolades. “I’m a team player so I’ll do anything for the team to get the win at the end of the day and to impact any way that I can, so the individual awards and accolades are just a piece of recognition that’s raising my game.”

Her success has come with plenty of improvement.

“I think Aaliyah is going to be a great pro,” Canadian senior women’s assistant coach Steve Baur said in a phone interview. “I think defensively she’s taken some huge strides in the last few years. … but I think her offensive game is where she’s really evolved.

“She’s a much more dynamic offensive player. And I think if you give Aaliyah two to three more years in pro context, she’s going to continue to expand her range shooting, and I think she’s going to continue to expand her offensive game.”

Canada Basketball president and chief executive officer Michael Bartlett says Edwards’ rise serves as an example of what younger Canadian talent can accomplish.

“It’s a big deal for our young athletes … and it’s a big deal, I think, for the slate of athletes that are coming through the pipeline and will find themselves in WNBA drafts well into the future,” Bartlett said in a phone interview. “You think of athletes like Toby (Fournier) and Syla (Swords) and Jasmine Bascoe, who haven’t even started their NCAA careers yet.

“It also just further emphasizes the fact that our Canadian talent on the women’s side, just like on the men’s side, this isn’t fringe talent. This is build-your-team-around-this talent. This is lottery pick talent coming up through the pipeline.”


AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball